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BOSTON PUBLIC LIBRARY 

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BOSTON 
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•STON PUBCK ' SF 

GOVERNMENT DOCUMENTS DEPARTMENT 

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JUN 2 2 1988 



South Boston 

Neighborhood Profile 
1988 



City of Boston 

Raymond L. Flynn, Mayor 

Boston Redevelopment Authority 

Stephen Coyle, Director 

Alexander Ganz, Assistant Director 
Policy Development and Research 



Boston Redevelopment Authority Board Member; 

Robert L. Farrell, Chairman 

Joseph J. Walsh, Vice-Chairman 

James K. Flaherty, Treasurer 

Clarence Jones, Assistant Treasurer 

Michael F. Donlan, Vice-Chairman 

of Subcommittees 
Kane Simonian, Secretary 




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SOUTH BOSTON NEIGHBORHOOD PROFILE 

Introductory Overview 

Since the eighteenth century, South Boston's area has greatly expanded through the 
filling in of land In the northern industrial sector and the Castle Island area. Today. 
South Boston is a peninsula of approximately four square miles with spacious beaches 
and parks. Its prime location three miles southeast of Downtown affords direct access 
to highways both north and south. 

South Boston is characterized by older, white residents living in traditional family 
arrangements. In this, it is much like East Boston and Charlestown. Six of every ten 
residents of South Boston are of Irish ancestry. The population under fifteen years 
old has recently declined, while the proportion over 55 years of age rose. A majority 
of South Boston's households are comprised of families. Moreover, among non-family 
households, a significant proportion are elderly singles, mostly widows and widowers. 

Residents have lower levels of educational attainment, occupational skills and income 
than the average Bostonian. South Boston, like East Boston, has a low proportion of 
college graduates among adults 25 years and older. Household income is well below 
the city average and the poverty rate is higher than average. 

South Boston has undergone less change from new migrants during the past decade 
than other Boston neighborhoods close to downtown. However, some young profes- 
sionals have recently begun to move into renovated condominiums, and property values 
have risen substantially. With the aging of its population, South Boston may see more 
changes occuring over the next decade like those in Charlestown. 

I. Neighborhood History 

South Boston was founded in 1630 as a part of Dorchester. At that time, South 
Boston was a peninsula of approximately 570 acres extending north from Dorchester, 
dominated by two prominent hills and separated from the Boston peninsula by South 
Boston Bay and the Dorchester Flats. 

South Boston remained basically undeveloped until the early nineteenth century, when 
real estate speculators purchased land in the area, intending to develop it as a high 
income residential neighborhood. It was annexed to Boston in 1804. In 1805 the first 
bridge connecting South Boston to Boston Proper was constructed, and the district's 
characteristic grid pattern was laid out. Development was rather slow at first, but a 
number of wealthy Yankee merchants built large wooden houses along East Broadway 
and around Thomas Park on Telegraph Hill. 

The pace of development accelerated in the 1830s as new bridges were opened and the 
northern marshland began to be filled for industrial development. In 1833, the 
opening of the Old Colony Railroad provided rail access to downtown Boston, Dorches- 
ter and the South Shore. The region of South Bay became a center for the lumber and 
foundary industries. As more land was created and industrial development was 
expanded, South Boston increasingly became the home of industrial workers and their 
families, most of whom were Irish immigrants. These laborers settled in the area west 
of Dorchester Street, in wood-frame triple deckers. 

The Great Boston fire in 1874 brought more immigrant laborers to the already crowded 
western section and South Boston lost its attraction as a high income neighborhood to 
Back Bay. Much of the peninsula was developed during the 1870s and 1880s with 
simple wood or brick row houses and detached three-family dwellings. The extension 
of streetcar service to the southern and eastern shores in 1890 led to the completion 



Draft: South Boston Neighborhood Profile , p. 2 SB.PFL6/10goetze 

of the community's residential development. At the end of the nineteenth century 
other immigrant groups. Lithuanians, Poles, and Italians, began to settle in the 
area west of Dorchester Street, and many of the Irish already established in the 
community, crossed Dorchester Street to move into the eastern section. 

The twentieth century has brought a steady increase of activity to the northern, 
nonresidential section of South Boston. Industrial and warehousing operations have 
grown in size and number, and the railroad yards fell Into disuse as trucking and 
containerized shipping have become primary means of transporting goods. This growth 
in the northern sector was for the most part unplanned and uncontrolled resulting in 
a mixture of uses along the area facing the harbor. 

South Boston lost almost one third of its population between 1950 and 1970. Three 
large housing projects built in the early 1950s have supported a large low-income 
population. Recent years have brought additional change as the number of children 
declined and the elderly population increased. Although the majority of South Boston's 
population has been Irish since the early nineteenth century, this majority has been 
declining, while the numbers of Eastern Europeans, French Canadians and Italians are 
growing. 

Table la. Population and Housing, 1950 - 1980 

1950 1960 1970 1980 

Population 55.670 (6.9) 43.959 (6.3) 38.488 (6.0) 30,396 (5.4) 

Housing units 15,178 (6.8) 14,555 (6.1) 14.259 (6.1) 14,055 (5.8) 

Persons/unit 3.7 3.0 2.7 2.2 

Note: figures in brackets are percent of Boston total. 

Source: a) 

See section at end of profile describing sources, as well as the methodology. 

II. Demographics 

South Boston has become a neighborhood of poorer, older residents, primarily of Irish 
origin. In 1985, fifty two percent of the population was aged 35 or greater, compared 
to 38 percent citywide, and only 29 percent were under 25 years old, compared to 40 
percent citywide. Since there was also a relative dearth of 25 to 34 year olds, South 
Boston's 37 year median age was the second highest in Boston. 

Table Ha. Population, 1985' 

Total Population in Household Persons per 

group quarters population household 

South Boston 30,079 1,025 29,054 2.3 

City of Boston 601,095 49.595 551.500 2.4 

' Note difference between total population and household population. 
Most of the following tables refer to household population as explained 
in the end notes for source b). 



Draft: South Boston Neighborhood Profile , p. 3 



SB.PFL6/10p,oetze 



Table lib. Age Composition of Household Population, 1985 

(in percent) 





Median 














age 


0-14 


15-24 


25-34 


35-54 


55 + 


South Boston 


37.0 yrs 


14 


15 


17 


23 


29 


City of Boston 


28.8 yrs 


17 


23 


22 


20 


18 



Note: Percent may not total to 100 due to rounding. 
Source: b) 

Racially, South Boston was almost exclusively white; a full 97 percent of the total 
population was white while only 3 percent was minority. 



Table lie. Racial/Ethnic Composition of Household Population, 1985 

(in percent) 



South Boston 
City of Boston 



White, not 
Hispanic 


Black 


Hispanic' 


Asian 


Other 
races 


97 











3 



62 



25 



Note: Percent may not total to 100 due to rounding. 

' Hispanic includes self-designated Hispanics plus those who speak Spanish in the 

home or were born in a Spanish-speaking country 

Source: b) 

South Boston household composition in terms of traditional couples, with or without 
children, and single householders matched that of the city. However, South Boston 
had a much larger share of single-parent families and a much smaller share of 
unrelated (roommate) households. 



Table lid. Household Composition, 1985 
(In percent) 



Traditional Single 
families and parent 
couples households 



Single Household 

person of unrelated 
household individuals 



South Boston 



City of Boston 



37 



36 



21 



16 



34 



34 



8 



14 



Note: Percent may not total to 100 due to rounding. 
Source: b) 

III. Income and Poverty 

South Boston's median family income was one of the lowest in Boston at $13,800. This 
lower income was also reflected In the neighborhood's poverty rate at 31 percent for 
persons compared to 21 percent for Boston as a whole. South Boston's poverty rate 
was about equal for both families and unrelated individuals. 



Draft: South Boston Neighborhood Profile , p. 4 SB.PFL6/10goetze 

Table Ilia. Median Household Income and Portion in Poverty, 1979 and 1984 
Median household income Percent in poverty 







1979 


1984 


1984 


1984 






all 


all 


all 


unrelated 


1979 


1984 


persons 


persons 


families 


persons 


$10,131 


$13,800 


20 


31 


31 


30 


12,530 


19,250 


20 


21 


22 


17 



South Boston 

City of Boston 

Source: b) 

IV. Mobility and Migration 

South Boston had many long term residents, contributing to the tight-knit nature of 
this neighborhood. A full 91 percent of all residents were born in Massachusetts, 
while only 9 percent were from elsewhere. Over 30 percent of South Boston residents 
had been in their dwelling unit for 16 years or more while 44 percent had moved 
within 5 years. This compares with 19 percent and 55 percent, respectively, citywide. 

Table IVa. Place of Birth of 1985 Residents 
(in percent) 

Massachusetts Other U.S. Europe Elsewhere 

and Canada 



South Boston 91 3 4 2 

City of Boston 55 25 5 15 

Note: Percent may not total to 100 due to rounding. 
Source: b) 

Table IVb. Years in Dwelling Unit of 1985 Household Residents 

(in percent) 



<2 


2-5 


6-10 


11-15 


16-t 


18 


26 


19 


5 


32 


28 


27 


16 


10 


19 



South Boston 

City of Boston 

Note: Percent may not total to 100 due to rounding. 
Source: b) 

V. Employment 

South Boston specializes In manufacturing, including printing and publishing, apparel, 
as well as electric and electronic equipment. The Boston Marine Industrial Park is a 
key element in maintaining a base of about 8,200 manufacturing jobs in the area. 
Wholesale trade, communication, retail trade and business services provide most of the 
19,100 nonmanufacturing jobs. 

Labor force participation in South Boston was marginally below that for the City. 
Unemployment at 4 percent was also below the city rate. South Boston resident 
industry of employment closely tracked Boston's share in manufacturing, trade, and 
finance while it was greater for government and considerably less for services. 
Altogether there were 27,300 jobs in South Boston in 1983, with the majority located 
in the northern industrial district. 



Draft: South Boston Neighborhood Profile , p. 5 SB.PFL6/10goetze 



Table Va. Labor Force Status. Spring 1985 
(In percent) 



Participation rate Unemployment 

(Persons aged 16 yrs + ) rate 



South Boston 62 4 

City of Boston 66 6 

Source: b) 

Table Vb. Industry of Resident Workers, 1985 
(in percent) 

Manuf'g Trade F.I.R.E" Services Gov't Other 

South Boston 13 16 9 24 20 19 

City of Boston 14 16 8 36 11 15 

Note: Percent may not total to 100 due to rounding. 

■ F.I.R.E. is an abbreviation for Finance, Insurance and Real Estate. 

Source: b) 



Table Vc. Employment Located Within Neighborhood, 1983 

(in percent) 





Manuf'g 


Trade 


F.I.R.E. 


Services 


Gov't 


Other 


South Boston 


8,200 


7,000 


2.600 


4.300 


1.700 


3,600 


City of Boston 


48,900 


81,000 


78.800 


171,000 


91.500 


58.100 


Source: c) 














VI. Housing 















South Boston is a neighborhood of renters. Only one quarter of its housing units are 
occupied by owners, but in part this is due to many of its rentals being in triple- 
deckers which are largely resident-owned. Nearly another quarter of its stock is in 
public housing, giving South Boston the highest density of public housing of any 
neighborhood. These large projects, including Mary Ellen McCormack, West Broadway/D 
Street, and Old Colony, are among the earliest built in Boston. 

An artists' community has recently emerged in the former industrial loft, wool pro- 
cessing district near Fort Point Channel, across from Boston's downtown. Also, 
ambitious plans will result in considerably more housing development on the Fan Piers, 
across from the Boston waterfront. 



Draft: South Boston Neighborhood Profile , p. 6 



SB.PFLG/lOgoetze 



Table Via. Housing Stock Composition by Structure Types, 1980 and 1985 

(in dwelling units) 

1980 1985 



No. of d.u. 
8000 




vacant Own.occ. PrAptSF PrAptrIF Condos SubsHssr BHA 

Housin? Stocfc Typ«s 



:i:i:::=::::::::::::i:::::::::::=ic:::::::i:=:::3j::a::r::2::::::::=:xillii::«::3i:::aiiiii:r:::3ii^t 



SOUTH BOSTON iPrivttt Housing and Condos :Assist*d Housing! 

Stock typt: ! 1-4 vacant Ovn.occ. PrAptSF PrAptHF CondoSF CondohT :SubsHsg BHA ! 
l-4(SF)/5+(NF) 



Total 
1-4(SF) 1-4(SF) 1-4(SF) 5MHF) 1-4(SF) 5+(HF): nixed 5+(HF) ! Mixed 



I960 

I of pl.dist. 

1383 

I of pl.dist. 



91 939 
7 

31 304 
2 



3,187 
23 

3,304 
25 



change '80-'85 : (635) 317 

I chg froi '80 : (68) 10 



5,845 
42 

6,311 
44 

466 

8 



660 
5 

452 
3 

(208) 
(32) 



117 : 202 3,109 ! 14,059 

1 : 1 22 1 100 

23 392 : 202 3,109 ! 14,297 

3:1 22 ! 100 



23 
inf 



275 : 
235 : 



I 
! 



238 
2 



Source: c) 

The mean property value of 1 to 3 family homes in South Boston in 1985 was 
$100,000. just below the $115,000 City mean value, but its housing market has tight- 
ened recently. Median rents were at a relatively affordable level, largely because the 
sample included public housing where tenants pay relatively little for their units. 

Table VIb. 1-3 Family Property Values and Median Gross Rents, 1980 and 1985 



South Boston 


1-3 


family property values 
1979 1985 

$24,000 $100,000 


Medi 


an monthly 
1980 

$184 


gross rents 
1985 

$320 


City of Boston 




32,000 


115.000 




254 


400 


Source: b) 














VII. Transportation 















South Boston workers showed much the same pattern in means of transportation to 
work that is evidenced cltywide. A high 52 percent of households in South Boston did 
not own any vehicles. 



Draft: South Boston Neighborhood Profile , p. 7 SB.PFL6/10goetze 

Table Vila. Means of Household Transportation to Work. 1985 

(in percent) 

- Vehicle MBTA Walk Other 

South Boston 45 32 20 3 

City of Boston 50 33 15 3 

Note: Percent may not total to 100 due to rounding. 
Source: b) 

Table Vllb. Number of Vehicles Owned per Household, 1985 

(in percent) 

None 1 2 3 or more 

South Boston 52 37 9 2 

City of Boston 39 42 14 5 

Note: Percent may not total to 100 due to rounding. 
Source: b) 

VII. Summary of Recent and Imminent Development 

Investments in South Boston are anticipated to total $400 M (million) for the 1975 to 
1989 period, according to source e). Office development has become a major component 
with the renaissance of the Fort Point Channel Area. The cost of office projects will 
total $154 M, which is 38 percent of all South Boston construction activity. This 
revitalization effort will convert 1.8 M square feet (SF) of storage area into office 
space and renovate an additional 200,000 SF. 

During the 1975-1989 period there was only 20,000 SF of new office space constructed 
in South Boston, but this type of development will play a much greater role in the 
1990's with such projects as the Fan Piers and World Trade Center Phase II. 

The industrial sector of the South Boston economy will have seen a steady investment 
of $96 M over the 1978-1988 period, which represents almost one-fourth of all South 
Boston development activity in this period. This investment will have resulted In 
keeping 2,299 industrial jobs in the city and creating 747 new industrial jobs. These 
3047 jobs will be occupying the 3.2 M SF of office space. Two-thirds of this industrial 
space will be situated in the Boston Marine Industrial Park at the former South Boston 
Army Base. 

The investment in exhibition and convention space in South Boston will have exceeded 
$71 M and generated 820,000 SF of renovated space at the World Trade Center in the 
former Commomwealth Pier Building. This project began hosting conferences and trade 
shows in 1986 and was completed in early 1987. 

The residential component of South Boston development is also substantial, accounting 
for an investment of $60 M, or 15 percent of all development, over the 1975 to 1989 
period. This investment will have produced 1,024 dwelling units (DU), of which 407 
are new construction (40%), 308 DU are adaptive reuse development (30%). and 309 DU 
are renovations (30%). 



Draft: Neighborhood Profile , p. 8 AB.PFL6/10goetze 

Sources and Methodology 

a) - U.S. Census of Population and Housing, 1950 - 1980 

b) - B.R.A. and P.F.D. Household Survey, 1985, conducted by the Center for Survey 

Research. U. Mass. at Boston. A sample of over 2,000 households, carefully 
drawn to reflect Boston's household population, was questioned in the spring of 
1980, to parallel the 1980 U.S. Census. In 1985, exactly five years later, the 
same methodology was employed again to obtain an update and to identify 
neighborhood shifts. This survey did not include the group quarters population 

To learn more about changes in these planning districts by 1985, the several 
thousand observations available from the 1985 BRA/PFD Household Survey were 
differentiated to the limit. Knowing such changes as the shift in number of 
persons by race/ethnicity and age group in each district is valuable for 
planning. However, this divides the available data into so many cells that it 
limits reliability tests. The inferences should therefore be viewed as suggestive 
rather than conclusive. 

c) - Boston's Changing Housing Patterns, 1970 to 1985, Rolf Goetze, consultant to the 

B.R.A., November 1986. The 1980 U.S. Census does not specifically identify 
assisted dwelling units or the structure types within which they occur. It also 
does not indicate the type of stock in which condominiums are located, or when 
rental dwellings are in resident-owned structures. Therefore, available city 
data were carefully analyzed to obtain an overview and identify current housing 
patterns, as described in this source paper. 

To aid in tracing the 1980 to 1985 changes in Table Via, the housing stock was 
divided into units located in 1-4 unit structures, and those in 5 or more 
multi-unit structures. The l-4s, dubbed 1-4(SF) for single family, are largely 
singles, duplexes and triple-deckers, and tend to have a high rate of owner 
occupancy. PrAptSP designates the private apartments rented in this stock. In 
1984, significant condominium conversion of triple-deckers commenced in some 
districts, shown as CondoSP. 

Multifamily is designated as 5+(MP). and includes private rentals in this stock, 
PrAptMF, and condominiums, CondoMF, as well as public housing owned and 
managed by the Boston Housing Authority, BHA. Subsidized housing, SubsHsg, 
refers the to privately-owned developments assisted under such federal programs 
as Section 221(d)(3). Section 236, and Section 8. as well as state assistance 
programs under EOCD and MHFA. The newly built assisted housing tends to be 
in multifamily structures, whereas the rehabilitated stock is more likely to be in 
1-4 unit stock. 

Table Via also shows how the total stock in each time period is distributed, as 
well as the absolute and percent change. 

d) - U.S. Bureau of the Census, "County Business Patterns," 1983 

e) - A Summary and Survey of Development in Boston, 1975 - 1989, John Avault and 

Mark Johnson, April 1987, based on compilations maintained on "ULTRALIST" by 
the BRA Research Department